ON DEMAND: Watch this archived event on FIT’s Livestream.
The journey from April 19, 1989 to now is not one that Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana ― three of the five men who were unjustly convicted of beating and raping a jogger in Central Park ― would ever have chosen, but they wouldn’t change where that journey has led them.
The three men came to FIT February 15 to discuss historical and current racial issues, following an excerpt of filmmaker Sarah Burns’s documentary The Central Park Five. The event, which was planned to take place during Black History Month, was presented by Bernard L. Dillard, associate professor of science mathematics, in collaboration with the Presidential Scholars Program and the Office of Educational Opportunity Programs. It was sponsored by a President’s Diversity Grant and the UCE of FIT.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Richardson said of the years since the ordeal. “But this whole process is therapeutic because when we were incarcerated we didn’t have psychology class and didn’t have people speak to us. So when we got released and the film came out, it became therapeutic to speak, especially to the youth, because we lost our youth. We didn’t have that, so we live for them.”
Richardson, who was 14 years old at the time, served 12 years in prison. Now his focus is encouraging teens to be responsible and get an education. Salaam focuses on speaking out against injustice and policy changes in the prison industrial complex. He is a proponent of video surveillance in police interactions. Santana, who spent five years in prison, is a champion of several causes, and travels the speaking circuit discussing second chances, lies in the media and false confessions.
“We’re trying to put our lives back together with the awesome help of our families,” Salaam said. “This is a journey where you all have had in a way given us tremendous strength to continue moving forward. I’ve increased my family size; I have 10 children now. One of the things I think that really is impactful is the work we’ve been doing toward making sure there is never another Central Park Five.”
Dr. Joyce F. Brown, who introduced the event, talked about its timeliness and importance. “Twenty-eight years later, race remains a potent and divisive force in our society, as President Obama said before leaving office,” Dr. Brown said. “And this case continues to be controversial, animating many of the issues we struggle with as a society and that cause such dissention.”